Women of Style: Frida Kahlo

Women of Style: Frida Kahlo

Kahlo remained curious about herself; often magically constructing her life with a brush
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Frida Kahlo is an icon. For me, she’s the embodiment of a powerful, fearless woman. Her unique self-portraits and works that depicted national struggle in Mexico have captivated audiences across the world. She was unafraid to mix fantasy and reality – and to express her vulnerability as a human being through her art.

Kahlo has profoundly affected so many threads of my life, including my own artistic expression and understanding of personal struggle. When I was a teenager, Kahlo’s surrealist style first spoke to me. I was enthralled by the paintings of her dreams, and I imagined how much courage it took for her to bring the unconscious to the surface. To this day, I am inspired by her open stance toward a full range of emotional experience.

Kahlo has also influenced my ideas about what it means to be a woman. She personified confidence and sensuality - not with nudity; rather by her strength and state of being “in between” femininity and masculinity. She modeled how one could live authentically and not conform to societal pressures.

As a “Woman of Style,” Kahlo often wore European and indigenous Mexican dresses, the details of which appeared in her artwork. The cultural dualism running through her own life experience is what made her an unforgettable artist.

Finally, Kahlo remained curious about herself; often magically constructing her life with a brush. As a Latina art therapist, I have learned how powerful it can be to stay in the metaphor of life and self expression through color, texture, fantasy, and culture. And I have learned that pain is a subjective reality in us all. She is my muse in so many ways – inspiring me to push the boundaries of self identity in a culturally dynamic and colorful way.

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Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

Women of Style: Frida Kahlo

Women of Style: Frida Kahlo

At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.
— Frida Kahlo
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Frida Kahlo was a woman who endured - physical pain, gender discrimination, heartache, family dysfunction, and civil war. She is perhaps most known for her evocative self-portraits and tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera, but it is her fierce spirit that connected me to her years ago. As a fellow woman who has endured, I found deep strength in Frida's story. 

It is said that for Frida's first exhibition in Mexico she was ordered by her doctor to stay in bed due to severe illness. She was devastated at the prospect of missing the first show in her home country, so she had herself driven to her exhibition in an ambulance and carried in on her signature bed. As someone who has experienced limitations, it is easy to succumb to barriers and setbacks, but Frida reminds me to transcend my limitations and to engage my pain and allow it to radically change me. 

Frida's story is not one with a happy ending, nor is it a blue print for emotion regulation and containment, but rather it reveals an authentically messy human who fought for her dreams. Frida was unabashedly Frida, and her fierce endurance serves as a reminder to me to courageously persevere. 

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Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.

Women of Style: Two Fridas

Women of Style: Two Fridas

Frida Kahlo has made a significant impact on both Abby Wambaugh and Maria Elena Marquez, two of our therapists here at MHT. So, we thought: Why not have two Fridas, as in her famous painting, in our Women of Style series!? 

The whole team at MHT was not only floored by the photographic results but inspired by the conversation and collaboration that emerged from these two women coming together to celebrate a very special Woman of Style.  

Each therapist has their own take on why Frida Kahlo is inspiring in style and in spirit. Check out Abby's piece here and Maria Elena's here

The Two Fridas/Las dos Fridas (1939) by Frida Kahlo

The Two Fridas/Las dos Fridas (1939) by Frida Kahlo

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Dr. Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT is an expert trainer, respected speaker, and licensed therapist in trauma and attachment. She is noted for her specialization in areas of development, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, and her ability to communicate complex topics with clarity and humor. Michelle completed her PhD in Psychoanalysis from The Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She received her BA in English Literature from University of Oklahoma, MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.

Women of Style: Louise Brooks

Women of Style: Louise Brooks

A well dressed woman, even though her purse is painfully empty, can conquer the world.
— Louise Brooks

I can’t exactly recall when I developed my penchant for all things 1920s, but I know that falling in love with silent movies in my late teens sealed the deal. A big part of the charm was Louise Brooks. I adored her look - bobbed haircut (also described as a black helmet), enigmatic expressions, dark eyes, and elegant dresses. And like any good fan, I wanted to know everything about her. What I found (and rediscovered in embodying her for this project) was a multifaceted woman and a feminist ahead of her time.

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Never really considered a major star in her day, Brooks is now most famous for her lead roles in Pandora’s Box (1929) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). In these films, Brooks epitomized the flapper style on screen. This style was emblematic of the “New Woman” of the 1920s that pushed gender roles and shed the restrictive laces, corsets, and hoops that dominated women’s fashion at the time. 

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Not only was Brooks radical in dress, but she was unafraid to cross powerful men in Hollywood - turning down deals with major studios to live and work in Germany. Moreover, her acting approach and choice of projects marked a trailblazer spirit. Brooks was a pioneer of naturalistic acting, predating Marlon Brando and James Dean by decades. Her portrayal of female sexuality on screen also pushed boundaries. In Pandora’s Box, she played one of cinema’s first bisexual characters. Off-screen, she had multiple romances with directors and co-stars, Charlie Chaplin and supposedly Greta Garbo included. 

By the time Brooks was in her mid-twenties, her movie career was already over. Despite her youth while active in front of the camera, she defied the stereotype of the naïve ingenue. Rather, she was noted for her fierce intelligence, which I so respect. She reportedly read the work of Schopenhauer on set (this tidbit gets me chuckling). Her 1982 memoir Lulu in Hollywood also revealed a mind and voice that could understand and articulate the language of film on par with the most celebrated critics.

I thoroughly admire her different-ness and complicated nature. A trailblazer. An underdog. A sex symbol. An intellectual. A style icon. A woman comprised of many parts - both messily human and otherworldly in her own way. Henri Langlois, one of the founders of the La Cinémathèque française, famously said, "There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks.” I couldn’t agree more.


Taz MorganMA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 

Women of Style: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Women of Style: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I don’t sit in the back.
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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To my mind, a lady of style can be very much herself, while making room for the people around her to be themselves, too. 

I admire this trait in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She’s a lady with an opinion, and a whole lot of passion. She has enough skill that she’s landed in the highest court of our country. And yet, in all of the strength with which she holds herself, she is not consumed by the power of her own voice. I see this in the way she cultivated a rich friendship with the late Justice Scalia, whom she often fiercely opposed professionally. I see this in her humor in the midst of such serious work, such as her habit of wearing a “dissent collar,” the same glass bead necklace that she dons whenever offering an opposing opinion. 

I also admire that RBG is able to be herself, even when that falls outside of what others would expect. For example, even in her 60s and 70s, she was found parasailing and whitewater rafting. She’s quoted as saying, “I don’t sit in the back,” when encouraged to ride in the safer seat on one such boat ride. 

Now that’s style. 


Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Why We Dressember

Why We Dressember

This is a collaborative piece from MHT therapists Taz Morgan and Maria Elena Marquez. They attended the Dressember 2017 Kickoff Party on Thursday, November 30 at the Unique Space in Downtown LA. 


Last week we ventured to the Arts District to attend the Official Dressember Kickoff Party. We weren’t sure what to expect from the event but whatever fantasies we may have had were completely blown out of the water. It was such an impressive and inspiring night of style, generosity and community — all tenets of The Dressember Foundation

Maria Elena admiring some of the styles from the 2017 Dressember Collection. 

Maria Elena admiring some of the styles from the 2017 Dressember Collection. 

After making a beeline to the food truck, we took in all that the activity of the party - a photo booth, a gingerbread cookie decorating station, a craft table, and a display of The 2017 Dressember Dress Collection, designed by advocates and ethically made by Elegantees. Of note, Elegantees employs survivors of human trafficking in Nepal. 

An hour into the party, the emcees (two Dressember board members) took the stage and introduced Dressember founder Blythe Hill. Not only did Blythe speak about the issue of human trafficking and why she is committed to giving grants to non-profits that strive to put an end to violent oppression but she shared how her own experience of sexual trauma has impacted her life. The vulnerability with which she spoke about the burden of shame was palpable. Moreover, we resonated with Blythe's declaration that going to therapy had helped her regain a sense of resiliency and strength, which in turn, propelled her to make a more expansive mark on the world. Furthermore, she talked about a fire being ignited in her soul at the age of 19 to put an end to sex trafficking. Her passionate spirit has indeed fueled the Dressember movement - and in that moment, we both felt a resounding sense of urgency in our own bellies and turned to look at each other - silently acknowledging that we were experiencing something special with this kind of truth-telling. 

Blythe Hill, Founder and CEO of Dressember. 

Blythe Hill, Founder and CEO of Dressember. 

Next up on the stage were advocates from A21 and International Justice Mission (IJM), two major Dressember partner organizations. The A21 representative told a story about a trafficking survivor who had been a typical teenage girl in Bulgaria. One day this young woman went out on a mid-day coffee date with a young man. She got up to use the bathroom and while she was away from the table, he drugged her drink. The next thing she knew she was strapped to a bed in Greece. The advocate went on to highlight this woman's astounding recovery of hope and freedom. The very charismatic representative from IJM spoke about her work in rescuing children from exploitation in the Philippines. She, too, mentioned the importance of mental health services for survivors. Finally, she got everyone in the room to move to a dance that survivors from a rescue in Manila created. 

Towards the end of the night, the emcees presented guests with a challenge to raise enough money for two rescue missions. Witnessing people lining up to make a donations to the cause was heart-warming and just what we needed to ramp up even more enthusiasm about our team fundraising campaign this year.


The Dressember Foundation is an anti-trafficking nonprofit organization with an annual campaign in December where people take on the challenge of wearing either a dress or a tie every day of the month as a way to raise awareness and money for anti-trafficking work.

For more information, we recommend checking them on Instagram or Facebook in addition to visiting their official website


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Taz MorganMA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 

Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

Women of Style

Women of Style

One of our major goals for the month of December, beyond raising funds to combat sexual exploitation and sex trafficking with the Dressember Foundation, was to find ways to empower women through storytelling. As we were beginning our planning for the Dressember month, I wanted to create a central project for the MHT team that embraced both the perfunctory nature and the profundity of dress and style, as well as tell stories about different kinds of women. I was inspired by a book lent to me by one of our therapist Taz Morgan, a women who oozes style. The book is Women in Clothesa collection of interviews and beautiful photography that seeks to understand embodied women and their relationship to clothes. This book reinforced to me that style is less about the particularities and organization of clothing and much more about the mind, movement and meaning of the woman inhabiting them. Our own Women of Style series is an attempt to get to know and share stories about the embodied women who inspire us.

Each of our therapists participated in a photoshoot in which they were asked to embody the style and presence of a woman that has influenced them and then tell us about it. We hope you enjoy this intimate and inspired series!


Dr. Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT is an expert trainer, respected speaker, and licensed therapist in trauma and attachment. She is noted for her specialization in areas of development, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, and her ability to communicate complex topics with clarity and humor. Michelle completed her PhD in Psychoanalysis from The Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She received her BA in English Literature from University of Oklahoma, MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Our Humans of MHT series continues this month by spotlighting Laura MacRae-Serpa as she shares her love of learning and play with fellow intern Allie. 

Allie: Okay, so hi Laura, I'm so excited that I get to interview you. It was all random, who interviewed who. And it feels very special to me to get to talk with you about humanness and about your work as a therapist, I think, because you're someone who –  as a therapist and a human – I admire a lot.

Laura: Thank you, Allie.

A: I feel like you do such a amazing job of making the heart connection with people, but also just being extremely skilled and knowledgeable. Sometimes people have one of those [capacities] more than the other and I feel like you have both in abundance so it's um -

L: Thank you, I feel the same way about you.

A: Thank you. So, I'm curious, I want to hear about your picture in our humans of MHT photo series. I'm especially curious about your goggles picture. What's going on with your goggles?

L: Soap making. So that's one thing I like to do as a hobby is make soap. And you have to use lye at one point, so you have to protect your eyes, wear gloves, and you get to look like a scientist for a moment (laughter).

A: That's so fun! So you enjoy the lye process in particular then? Is that why you picked the goggles?

L: (laughter) Yes I do. I like taking anything and mixing it. So, soap making, baking, you know, a lot of things that children play with – I just enjoy that process.

A: You like having different ingredients, that you're putting into the pot –

L: Anything I can mix together in a pot, and see what it comes out as, I like.

A: Yeah, I love that. Um, well, lye is a really fascinating one to think about too, because it's poisonous, right?

L: Yes (laughs).

A: So, but there you are, creating something very nice and healthful.

L: Yes I am.

A: Do you feel like there any, like how do you make sense of that maybe even metaphorically: The mixing of the lye into your pot to make soap, and you like mixing all different kinds of things together in play or in therapy?

L: Yeah, I think symbolically, when we think about pieces of ourselves, you know, we mix the good in with the not-so-great. Or what we perceive as not so great. But you know I think it's the sum of the parts that create the whole, which obviously, you know, the end result can be a beautiful thing.

A: Mmm.

L: A valuable, worthy thing.

A: Mmm, yeah, I like that. That's kind of an interesting comment, you slipped in there – just the parts that we maybe think are less valuable

L: Right.

A: What what do you mean by that?

L: I think sometimes our vulnerabilities, sometimes the pieces of ourselves that we hide, or feel we have to hide or protect from from other people are actually the parts of ourselves that are the most human. You know, our flawed self, or like I said, what we perceive as flawed

A: Hmm.

L: When we have a relational experience where we can actually share some of the parts maybe that we're less proud of, when those are received and accepted, it can be a very powerful experience.

A: Hmm.

L: There's risk in that, of course.

A: Yeah, kind of beauty from ashes sort of experience to have something like that turn into something beautiful in a relationship. Yeah, like that. I like thinking about lye as the – I'll think of that for myself next time I'm not sure. “Well maybe this'll turn into something like soap. (Laughter).

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...I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I’m always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I’m growing as well.

A: Well, tell me a little bit about your humanness as a therapist. How do you feel like your humanness shows up in your sessions and and who you are as a therapist?

L: I think most importantly I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I'm always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I'm growing as well. And I think since I have such a powerful belief in just humans ability to be resilient, I carry that hope and that kind of strength-based energy with me into the room.

And play as well. Creativity and just making a little bit of space for play.

A: Yeah I think those – maybe your learning posture, which shows up perhaps more consistently with you than anyone else I've met, which is amazing because you already know a lot – but also your love of play, feel like two pretty special things about you. So that makes sense. Those are things that kind of mark your humaness as a therapist.

I actually wanted to ask you a little bit about about play, because you are such a skilled play therapist, and I know that you really love play. I think you've said to me that you just, you like play.

L: I do. (laughter)

A: It's a good job for you! But I'm kind of curious, what you what sort of thoughts you have, if you can condense them down into a minute or two, of how how play can be leveraged for healing. I don't think we always are used to thinking about it that way. But my goodness, you do that so effectively so what are your thoughts about how that works?

L: I think play is children's work. It's how they process their world. It's how they you know try on their different parts, different selves. And often how they share. I think it creates safety. You know when I think about a play in a relationship, it creates safety. It's a mask almost. Not always, but sometimes it's a mask where the person feels a little safer to share or test or explore. So I think the potential for growth with play is unlike any other type of therapy, actually.

And I think that's why it's important to include play in our lives as adults. You know, however that's manifesting in your life. Whether it be team sports, or hobbies, or just giving yourself that freedom of creative process, it can be a powerful change agent and growth.

A: Yeah, the idea of a mask makes me think of play as providing a little bit of a buffer between the most like vulnerable parts of us and whatever it is that we're trying to learn to interact with.

L: Yeah.

A: And then that brings about safety that allows maybe for more growth than could happen if it was made maybe quite so explicit what we were doing. That would make it scarier, yeah.

L: Yeah, it feels a little safer, I think. I agree, just to kind of have it – it's almost like walking beside the experience and then processing it with someone else kind of beside to you, before you have to take that and integrate it.

A: Hmm, you're kind of trying things on, but it's not yet. Doesn't have to be you. Until you find out if it fits, maybe.

L: Yeah.

A: Interesting, I like that.

Um, well what about this huge question: What does humanness mean to you? How do you think about that?

L: Resiliency is the big one that comes to mind. I tend to think of the positive definition of humanness. I think of empathy, relationship building, our ability to be connected and to really feel each other's experiences. But within the resiliency, you know, it includes those darker experiences. Or the, the lye, shall we go back to that. (laughs) The parts of ourselves that maybe are harder to share. I think humanness is also very much about those parts and really allowing our relationship with those parts to ourself, so that we can kind of share relationally with other people in a very authentic way.

A: Mm-hmm. Yeah, do you feel like that those two things interact? Resiliency and being able to share the lye, the less desirable, or what we perceive as less desirable, inside of us?

L: I do. I think when we walk through or move through an experience that's difficult, yeah it's it's being a little more gritty. It's being able to maybe risk, because we're sitting comfortable in our sense of self, and we've had that relationship with all of our parts, so to speak. You know, and whether that includes acceptance, forgiveness, understanding; I think it then allows us to grow, be a little bit braver. I think it allows us to accept those parts in others too.

A: Mm-hmm.

L: You know, instead of just stepping into something with maybe an ideal that isn't attainable. I think sometimes it's the real pieces of people that we connect the most to.

A: Mmm, yeah, something that is maybe less ideal but actually ends up being better, or more special to us.

L: Yeah, I think it's relatable. And I always feel, with all of my clients, just a sense of respect for the courage it takes to step into therapy and look at those experiences. And you know the willingness to kind of explore just who they are, and maybe where they want to be, it's a very courageous process.

A: Well those are profound thoughts Laura, thank you for sharing.

L: Thank you, Allie.

A: Yeah, it's been so fun to interview you in our mini interview series. So, we'll sign off now. But thank you, and I'll get to talk to you soon (laughter).


Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.


Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Playful Relationships

Playful Relationships

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Play is a foundational component in healthy relationships, yet rarely do adults set an intention of inviting play into their daily interactions. Play allows us to add a lightness to our relationship and invite the type of back-and-forth dialogue that mirrors the flirtatious beginnings of a romantic partnership.

Often it is the ruts and transitions of life when play is most necessary, but also the most vulnerable. For many, the time after a child is born can feel like the least playful in a marriage. Suddenly life is full of scheduling dinners and playdates, and partner conversations revolve around bedtime routines and bottle feedings. Stress stifles play, but ironically, play is one of the most powerful ways to alleviate stress.

As Esther Perel says in her book Mating in Captivity, “Eroticism in the home requires active engagement and willful intent. It is an ongoing resistance to the message that marriage is serious, more work than play; and that passion is for teenagers and the immature.” If the loss of interpersonal play is, dare I say it, a path toward a slow and painful death of a relationship, then the rediscovery and intentional cultivation of deep play in a marriage can lead to fulfilling sexual intimacy, meaningful connection, and, ultimately, joy.

Play is a powerful force that not only can increase connection to one’s truest self and lighten the soul, but also can increase connections and reignite relationships.


Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.

Playing on the Road

Playing on the Road

Although the most trying, painful times in my life each have been marked by their own constellation of circumstances, I can safely surmise that a lack of play and imagination lied at the core. In those periods, I experienced my thoughts and emotions as facts etched in stone. Like a sentence to prison without parole. In the throes of such literalism, there was no wiggle room to consider other options. Conversely, when I approach the world with a playful stance, the mundane can turn into the sacred. Anxiety can transform into creativity. And fear can soften into a sense of wonder. 

...play is not about fun or pleasure per se. Instead, its essence is characterized by social connection and active engagement with the present.

Given this stark contrast between life with and without play, one might think that I would have figured out a way to bottle up this magical elixir. And yet this frame of mind remains so darn elusive to me. I don’t think it means that I’m too much of a stick-in-the-mud (although haters may beg to differ!). Rather, I think play is play precisely because it is difficult to pin down. It has an emergent quality. It is ephemeral, mercurial even, and can not happen on demand. It is a frame of mind that arises in the sweet spot where safety and novelty intersect. And this brings me to...

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Road trips! 

Yes, road trips, for me, are fertile ground for play. On such a journey, I’m in the familiar shell of my own car and often with a travel companion who elicits a sense of belonging. I can let my guard down. I also have a sense of agency (unlike with air travel) - my input on temperature, music selection, or when to stop for a break impacts the space. Moreover, I am moving and the terrain is constantly changing - stimulating and out of the ordinary but not overwhelming. Within this flow state, in-between-ness is tolerable. I may be anticipating arrival at a particular destination, and yet I truly revel in the pit stops at little diners off the interstate, the conversations that can unfold when there’s little distraction, or the way that time stands still when simply looking out the window. Possibility is in the air, and I'm ready for exploration. In this line of thought, play is not about fun or pleasure per se. Instead, its essence is characterized by social connection and active engagement with the present.

This all said, the salve to the next big obstacle may not be to literally hit the open road, but rather to get curious about what’s obscuring my imaginative capacity. Or as poet David Whyte says, “Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink….Everything is waiting for you.” 


Taz MorganMA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples.